Organizers of yesterday's massive demonstration in São Paulo against the Brazilian government have employed an analytics tool to get accurate attendance data.
Opposition group Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL) was offered the technology by Israeli startup StoreSmarts for free through its Brazilian distributor SmartLok in exchange for the marketing exposure linked to the anti-government demo.
The technology used in the protest is a combination of a portable router and an application that is usually employed by retailers to monitor, analyze and provide insights on shopper behavior by detecting WiFi signals from mobile devices in a designated area.
According to StoreSmarts CEO Eyal Ben Eliyahu, the system mapped the protests taking place in a central area of São Paulo, Avenida Paulista, for 7 hours.
In order to estimate the amount of people in any given area, the system only takes smartphones into account while ignoring other WiFi signals from devices such as laptops or routers. The calculations are carried out in real-time, so the system can also provide insight on its web dashboard into the peak hours of the protests.
By calculating the device's receiver signal strength indication (RSSI), the system can also tell how long the smartphone - and therefore its owner - spent in the area that is being mapped. However, the system does not track or store data on individual users.
"[The idea is to] finally have an objective benchmark of how many people are going to the demonstrations," Eliyahu told ZDNet, adding that the anti-government activists could use the technology to measure the audience of future protests.
"It's their decision, our technology is ready - I see no reason why not."
Typically, protest organizers in Brazil have to rely on data provided by the local authorities and large media organizations to get accurate insights on attendance. Those numbers are often believed to be inaccurate for political reasons - the StoreSmarts system suggests that 1.4 million people attended yesterday's demonstration, a number that matches what has been provided by the local police.
When asked why it is interesting to provide the technology free of charge, the startup founder says that his Brazilian partner has been piloting StoreSmarts' analytics tool with some retailers in São Paulo - so getting the extra attention is helpful.
"We believe in taking data driven decisions, whether it's politics or retail. The exposure we get by supporting such requests is very important for us and our partner, as we see Brazil as a very important market," Eliyahu says.